Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is an increasingly popular therapeutic approach to the treatment of a number of soft tissue complaints. Whilst benefit has been demonstrated in calcific tendinitis, evidence is lacking for benefit in the management of non-calcific rotator cuff disorders.
Aims: To perform a double-blind placebo controlled trial of moderate dose ESWT in chronic lateral epicondylitis.
Methods: Adults with lateral epicondylitis were randomised to receive either active treatment (1500 pulses ESWT at 0.12 mJ/ mm2) or sham therapy, monthly for three months. All were assessed before each treatment and one month after completion of therapy. Outcome measures consisted of visual analogue scores for pain in the day and at night.
Results: Seventy-five subjects participated and there were no significant differences between the two groups at baseline. The mean duration of symptoms was 15.9 and 12 months in the ESWT and sham groups, respectively. Both groups showed significant improvements from two months. No significant difference existed between the groups with respect to the degrees of change in pain scores over the study period. In the ESWT group the mean (SD, range) pain score was 73.4 (14.5, 38-99) at baseline and 47.9 (31.4, 3-100) at three months. In the sham group the mean (SD, range) pain score was 67.2 (21.7, 12-100) at baseline and 51.5 (32.5, 3-100) at three months. At three months, 50% improvement from baseline was noted in 35% of the ESWT group and 34% of the sham group with respect to pain.
Conclusions: There appears to be a significant placebo effect of moderate dose ESWT in subjects with lateral epicondylitis but there is no evidence of added benefit of treatment when compared to sham therapy.